Even though a San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee has yet to schedule its next hearing of the proposed sit-lie ordinance, debates on the issue are reaching a boil around town.
Since the ordinance was first introduced in early March, discussions of the proposed sit-lie ordinance have spread far beyond the board chambers to city commission meetings, including the Planning Commission and the Police Commission. Now a powerful democratic policy-making body has taken up the issue.
Wednesday night, after hours of public comment and in-depth discussion, the governing board of the San Francisco Democratic Party voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution opposing the ordinance.
As proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, the sit-lie ordinance would prohibit sitting and lying on any city sidewalk between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
More than 75 U.S. cities, including Santa Cruz, Seattle, and Portland, Ore., have similar laws on the books, but San Francisco’s version would be the farthest-reaching ordinance of its kind.
A resolution introduced by Democratic County Central Committee member and labor activist Gabriel Haaland instead proposes community involvement rather than increased policing and criminal charges.
Haaland argued that the proposed sit-lie law has nothing in common with the behavior that is being cited as problematic.
“The behaviors that people are citing that they want stopped are actually already illegal,” Haaland said. “What this suggests to me is that the current system of incarceration is just not working.”
Instead, Haaland, who has lived in Haight-Ashbury for 15 years, said that a discussion of real solutions has been absent because the neighborhood’s problems are being used as a wedge issue in the ongoing clash between moderates and progressives in the city.
“People outside of my neighborhood are going to use my neighborhood and exploit it as a political tool,” he said.
What Haaland is proposing as an alternative to the incarceration of youth in the Haight, which he said has proven ineffective so far, is a form of community policing known as restorative justice that would seek to involve neighbors and merchants in correcting problematic behavior.
It’s not the first time a sit-lie proposal has reached city decision makers – former Mayor Frank Jordan, who was also a former San Francisco police chief, failed to gain support for a sit-lie ordinance in 1994.
“People keep trying to do the same things over and over again, expecting a different result,” Haaland said. “They’re still surprised when they don’t get it.”
Rather than doling out new laws that criminalize activities like sitting, committee member and city Supervisor David Campos said the city needs “real and meaningful policing.” He supported the suggestion of community policing, noting that approach would potentially re-establish connections between neighbors, merchants and the police force.
The ordinance fundamentally indicates “a failure of policing in San Francisco,” said Campos, who served on the city’s Police Commission before winning his run for District 9 supervisor.
Newsom introduced the ordinance after he witnessed someone smoking crack on the sidewalk while he was on a walk in the Haight with his 7-month-old daughter Montana.
No official representatives from the mayor’s office or the Police Department joined in the discussion Wednesday night before the committee members voted 19-5 in favor of the resolution opposing the ordinance. There were two abstentions.
Newsom’s spokesman, Tony Winnicker, said that while his office recognizes that the debate has been heating up throughout the city, it is the Board of Supervisors that will decide the issue.
Winnicker said the mayor will weigh in after the board makes a decision.
“We hope and expect that the board will pass a meaningful sit-lie ordinance that will be signed into law,” he said.
If not, the mayor plans to put the issue on the November ballot.
“The mayor has been pretty clear from the beginning that he was receptive to either a citywide approach or one that was targeted more toward commercial districts,” he said.
While the Democratic committee has no official say over the matter, its elected members include three current supervisors and a number of former supervisors.
The clerk for the city’s Public Safety Committee said a discussion of sit-lie has yet not been scheduled, but a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said it would likely be the first week of May.